August 26, 2018

Time for "That" Sermon...

14th Sunday of Pentecost

First Lesson:  2 Kings 4:42-44

Second Lesson:  2 Corinthians 9:8-11

Gospel Lesson:  John 6:1-15

Sermon Text:  2 Corinthians 9:8-11

Visitors, glad to have you, but this 1st part won’t mean much to you. Members, I hope I’ve shown over years I only want to preach biblical stuff, that I care about/want what’s best for you, and that you respect me as one who brings God’s truth to you. A correct assumption? I’ve always tried to shoot straight and get right to the biblical point. I mention that because of today’s topic - money. I could do a little dance and ease into the topic, but getting right to it is more our style, so let’s do that. And I pray the seven years of capital I have built up here will help this message get across. Ready? Here we go.

It often happens that we’re around someone who has a problem, but we don’t know about it. Their problem comes up in conversation, and the person’s reaction surprises us. Say someone struggles with alcohol. They take a sip from the drinking fountain, spill on their shirt, and we say, “Looks like you have a drinking problem!” But the person, who does struggle, fires back, “No, I don’t! Why say that?” Or we bring up an issue and the person changes the subject. “Frank, did you hear someone is dipping into the petty cash here at work?” A guilty Frank’s response?” “No. Hey, did see the game last night?“ In either case, the person is uncomfortable because they know there’s a problem. They just don’t want to hear about it.

Can’t we slip into either response when the topic is financial stewardship - vehemently deny anything is wrong or quickly changing topics? Yes, for all of us. But this matter is something God talks about a lot. 37 times in the Gospels Jesus talks about wealth/riches. Something Jesus brought up once is worth talking about. But 37 times? You get the point. So, trusting I will stay biblical and that I care about your faith life, let’s drop our defenses and focus on what God says about finances.

We’re in 2nd Corinthians. In 1st Corinthians, Paul called the people out for acting immaturely. But over the course of time, they had matured, so Paul was ready to move on to more mature stuff like financial stewardship. That truth still applies. Financial stewardship talk is for the mature Christian. It is the last subject I talk about with people in new member class. If I started with it, they’d think, “Church is only after my money.” But as we mature, our feelings about faith/money mature also.

So what does Paul say to those more mature than before Christians, and to us? He starts with something simple – God always has/always will provide for his people. “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”  Note the words: abundantly, all, abound, every. Those are firm words - no wiggle room. What we need, God gives us in abundance. You all know that, right? Yes, you do.

But here is where immaturity can creep in. How? Nowhere here does God make promises about volume of blessings. He just says we’ll have what we need in abundance. But what does abundance mean? If I have 7 pants, that seems like an abundance. I can go a week without wearing the same pair. But if I compare my 7 to his 35, that’s not an abundance, is it?

And that leads to issue #1, an issue the sinner in us doesn’t want to think about. We struggle when deciding what portion of our wealth we’ll return in thanks to the Lord because we don’t realize how abundantly we’ve been blessed. Why not? We live in a society where we are told we don’t have enough. That is the point of marketing. Get people to think they have a need then fill it. Satisfied, content people aren’t good buyers. People who feel they are lacking something are.

The other reason we struggle is we compare our stuff to other people’s stuff, and then it’s hard to be content. This comes so easily. A year ago, after 25 years of driving, I finally was able to get a vehicle I wanted to have, not just some leftover – my truck. As I was driving home from the dealership – 10 minutes after signing papers – an F250 pulled up next to me.  You know what went through my head. “Man, I wish I had one of those.” I was content for 10 whole minutes.

If we fail to see how abundantly we’re blessed, our thanks/lack of it will reflect that. Instead of being grateful, we feel cheated. Instead of being content, we whine about things being unfair. Instead of appreciation, we long for more. And this causes us to close our hearts and wallets, because the sinner in us says we can’t live without what we have.

That is not how it should be among God’s people. But can you deny we struggle with a lack of contentment and a desire to have what everyone else has? And does that thinking lead to what Paul calls for here – generosity? If you need to have the latest phone, isn’t the cost of that and the plan going to play into how generous we are with our wealth in supporting Gospel ministry? If we feel like we’re not paid enough, or that it’s not fair we’re struggling and others aren’t, will that lead us to think about sacrificing a little more so we can help people come to/grow in faith as a church? The answers are obvious.

But isn’t that often how we think? Giving is sacrificing. It means we have something and we are parting with it. And you know the ramifications on your personal finances. But let’s be honest. Too often we don’t want to make that sacrifice, or if we do, it isn’t much of a sacrifice kind of sacrifice. And let’s stick with that word sacrifice. When it comes time to decide what % of your income you are going to return to the Lord, is it a sacrifice or a duty? Are there other things you give up or is leftovers after everything a heart’s desires are taken care of? I know. It’s as hard to ask it as it is to hear it.

Get the point? We’ve been blessed abundantly, especially as citizens of this country, especially the members of this congregation. But the sinner in us doesn’t want to admit that. The sinner in us thinks like the farmer from the parable. “If I build a few more barns, then I’ll be happy.” The sinner in us strives for a level of contentment we will never reach, because we will always want more, and we especially always want more than others. And that sinner in us needs to be quieted. But how do we do that?

Well, looking at wealth and stuff won’t because of our tendencies to compare and feel slighted.  So where must we look? Give you one guess. Hear another verse from Paul. “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Paul is almost understating things. He calls Jesus rich. All power, glory, honor, the eternal Son of God who is over, in, and through all? Yeah, I’d call that rich.

But what did he do with his riches? He sacrificed. He gave it all up to come here and do the dirty work we needed him to do. Work like cleanse selfish hearts. Like washing discontented minds. Like heaping all those sins and many more upon himself. Like carrying them to the cross in our place, enduring our rightful punishment. We did the sinning; he did the dying.

The result of Jesus’ poverty for us? Paul says that we, who had nothing at all, are now rich. He’s not talking money. Do you understand how rich you are spiritually? Answer in your head. How many of your sins are held against you? What % of God’s love is directed at you – a meager portion or all of it?  How certain are you heaven is your home?  Is it a guess or a confident hope?  How sure are you that what Christ did on the cross, he did for you, and that means you are a child of God?

Do you realize how many people in the world are looking for this kind of certainty, peace, hope, etc.? You have it in spades. That makes you rich – richer than any amount of figures after your checking account can ever make you. It is a wealth that sees you through life, guides you through death, and ushers you to the mansion awaiting in heaven. I know this is not new news, but when we get into the compare/selfish/“I don’t have enough” game – when we think that somehow we are not rich, we must go back to the reality that in bringing us to faith, God made us richer than any job or lottery could.

That’s what he has done. Now ask this question. Why? Why did God make me rich in bringing me into his family? And why did he give me all the things he has so abundantly given me in this life – earthly things? Back to our text. Paul quotes a psalm. “They (believers) have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” A believer knows how abundantly he’s been blessed. He’s not a miser or hoarder. He freely/willingly uses his gifts to serve God and help others. Instead of focusing on not having every want filled, the focus is on those who don’t have all they need. With a heart of faith and thanks, he responds. Shouldn’t that be our mentality? Shouldn’t that generosity, here through church or another way to help others, be at the core of who we are as Christians? Isn’t this how “rich” Christians should respond? We know.

Paul talked about God giving us all these things in abundance so we can abound in every good work.  Notice he didn’t say we have all this so we can stuff our mattresses and fatten our IRAs. The gifts we’ve been given are gifts we use to serve God and others. Paul proved that with the psalm quote. People served others with their gifts. And we do so because we are rich – first and foremost spiritually – but also rich by worldly standards.  So how can we use both to serve God and others?

Some obvious ways… With our 3rd Sunday offerings, we’ve helped food shelters, Veterans, helped bring the Gospel to Pakistan, etc. Last week we helped out inner city kids at Lighthouse learn about Jesus. If each family gave $20, we’d send $5000 to help keep people safe. What would that cost us? Eat out one less time a month. Skip Starbucks 4 times. Not buy THE best fishing reel out there. Small sacrifices, but put them together, that makes a big impact for at-risk kids.

But we also do that with our offerings here. As you give them, you serve and help people. You help members grow in faith as we have resources, facilities, and staff to preach and teach them. You help visitors who can come into a beautiful building with nice AV equipment, gifted musicians, and a message that speaks to them – the message of Christ’s love. You help give others a chance to serve be it in the classroom or on the mower. Your offerings help make these things possible.

With offerings we also support missions here and around the world. People will be in heaven because you helped fund people and ways to teach them about Jesus. Think about that. Years ago Mike Luetke was heading back to China. He said catechisms written in Mandarin cost $7 and he’d take back as many as he could. People threw bills at him. He had to use both arms just to hold it all. How many catechisms were purchased? How many people were taught? How many families came to know the truth? We will only know in heaven. $7– one less trip to Culver’s – did that.

You serve as you support Christian education at GS and KML. You serve as you support a steady stream of pastors and teachers coming out of our schools so you know you’ll always have properly trained, Gospel-centered workers. I know putting an offering in the plate is not as thrilling as giving directly to a need. But both are needed, because both are carrying out our call to serve. And in both, we are showing our thankfulness for the overabundance we have received. And there are many ways to be generous outside of these walls. I won’t make a list. I just ask you keep your eyes open, looking for all the different ways we can share our riches – both kinds – with those in need, serving them as our Savior served and serves us.

And one final point, as we do this, we don’t do it wimpily. We do so confidently. Why? Because we know the truth of the verses that end our text. Paul says, “Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”

God will provide. He proved that at the cross. He proves that daily. He’ll keep proving that. When he works in us a faith to trust that more each day, a faith willing to sacrifice, and a faith seeking to serve, we’ll be blessed. Blessed in knowing that God used us for his purposes. Blessed as all are blessed – with a clean conscience and a renewed spirit – as we live out our faith. And blessed that we can sit back and see results God brings about from our willing sacrifice and faithful service.

See? That wasn’t so bad. It all comes back to priorities. Next time you have the internal or family discussion about offerings and how you use your wealth to serve God, remember where you are on his list. Remember why - because of our Savior. And with that clearly in your mind, whatever you do, whatever you give, do it, give it, all to the glory of God.  Amen.